Jay Riggs’ goal is to sign Editors Guild members but he finds progress is slower than he had hoped

Staunch union organizer/field representative Jay Riggs of the Motion Pictures Editors Guild 700 wants to “regenerate the local editorial scene” by signing many new editors to the ranks of the Guild’s 6,000 members.

Despite the fact that Riggs for almost two years has been working in an industry with more than a dozen strong unions, results have been elusive.

The Los Angeles guild, naturally, has the lion’s share of members with 5,000; New York has 1,000 members.

“Chicago is quite a bit behind those two markets,” he admits. Considerably behind, actually, with a current local membership that fluctuates between 10 and 20.

Riggs can’t precisely pinpoint the exact number, because some of the members, mostly film editors, have dual L.A. and Chicago addresses, and it’s difficult to ascertain which is that member’s home guild.

Undaunted by the snail’s pace signups, and intensely loyal to union precepts, Riggs eventually foresees a Chicago guild membership of 500 to 1,000 editors of movies, cable, TV shows, commercials, “from Oprah down the pipeline to the networks, a broad net.”

At present, he is concentrating on recruiting freelancers, who might be in need of the kind of health and pension benefits a union provides. At the same time, he’s not ignoring the issues confronting company staffers, such as overtime pay and collective bargaining.

While an election to unionize the video editors at Towers Productions was unsuccessful, Riggs has received “some whispers of interest” from cautious editors. “I know there are prominent people who want to see [the guild] happen, but they’re bound by fear and trepidation,” he says. “I think it’s about time the editors stand up and get benefits.”

His best recruiting method is to meet with from two to five people a week over lunch or coffee. He planned to hold bi-monthly gatherings, but put that on hold after a December meeting and noting “it’s difficult to get people together in large groups.

CHICAGO HAD A LONG EDITORS UNION HISTORY

Riggs observes that Chicago is “a very different workplace” than the two coastal hubs of production, because it utilizes a combination of staff and freelance editors.

“The issues here are different than in L.A. and New York where membership consists of either fulltime or freelance editors,” he notes.

Chicago had a strong editors’ union, Local 780, then known as Film Editors and Lab Workers, for 50 years, until a prolonged year-long strike in 1980 at now-defunct Cinema Video essentially put Local 780 out of business here. That and the convergence of new technology that sent KEM flatbeds and Moviolas to museums.

In 1998, Local 780 revived as the Motion Picture Videotape/Laboratory Technicians/Allied Crafts and Government Employees Local and the Motion Picture Editors Guild 700 was formed anew.

During those 10 years, technology evolved with the speed of lightning, business models radically changed, and what had worked for a half century was no longer relevant.

An Indianapolis native, Riggs previously worked in federal Congressional campaigns in Indiana. He had organized school bus drivers for the Service Employees International in Chicago before joining the Editors Guild in 2006.

The Editors Guild office is located within the Local 476 building at 6317 N. Northwest Highway; phone, 773/594-6598; cell,312/656-6838.

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